Joint agreement

Throughout the proceedings of the cross-party Smith Commission, Lord Smith of Kelvin managed to keep a cool head as he shepherded the representatives of the different political parties towards an eventual joint agreement.

Throughout the proceedings of the cross-party Smith Commission, Lord Smith of Kelvin managed to keep a cool head as he shepherded the representatives of the different political parties towards an eventual joint agreement.

He even managed not to blow a fuse when the SNP denounced the outcome as inadequate within minutes of the release of the commission’s findings, despite the fact that they had agreed with the conclusions as very active participants in the process.

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Now Lord Smith says that having looked carefully at the final Scotland Bill it has “honoured what the five parties agreed” in the commission (“Lord Smith claims devolution vow has been delivered in full”, 13 November).

Given that he has demonstrated an ability to stay above the political squabbling, the five parties involved in the Smith Commission should now have the good grace to accept Lord Smith’s view that the agreed powers have indeed been delivered. While the SNP can always say they would like yet more powers, they should accept that what is coming is what was promised.

The big challenge for Scotland will be to make the most of these extensive new powers as they are introduced.

Keith Howell

West Linton, Peeblesshire

HMRC irony

The SNP has spent much of its time with a policy of centralising control of public bodies with the apparent aims of achieving greater efficiency and savings to the public purse.

The police, the fire service and even the Children’s Hearing Service, which has now one office in Edinburgh with most of the powers removed from the local authorities, are just three examples.

Is there not now some irony in the concern raised by the First Minister when it appears that HMRC is proposing exactly the same policy by rationalising its centres into three main ones in the Central Belt (your report, 13 November)?

Or is it possibly just the usual bluster when a change is suggested by the Westminster government irrespective of the potential merits?

Furthermore, why are Scottish public service workers “protected” with the policy of no compulsory redundancy when the largest area of cost will undoubtedly be labour?

How can these organisations quickly respond to the need for efficiencies when their largest cost base is virtually fixed and can only be reduced by offering taxpayer-funded leaving packages and pension enhancements? Such packages are usually infinitely more generous than a private sector worker, in similar circumstances, receiving statutory redundancy terms.

Is it not, after all, private sector taxation which is funding all public sector employment?

It seems just a little skewed and perhaps an ill-divided world.

David F Donaldson

Lawers Crescent, Falkirk

Our role abroad

The visit to the United Kingdom by Prime Minister Modi of India highlights the distance we have to climb to return to some measure of importance in world trade.

Of course, it was as the world’s leading trading nation that we reached the heights of our prosperity in the 19th century. Since then, it has been in no small measure the result of two world wars and the granting of independence to one quarter of the world’s nations that we have slipped in the rankings.

As a member nation of the EU, we are unable to sign trade deals ourselves and, clearly, this has been to our detriment.

Although I am not a huge fan of all that the current government is doing, we must increase opportunities for our industry and commerce to trade with these BRICS countries and making a fuss of Mr Modi may well help in that regard.

Learning that Belgium sells more to India than us must make alarm bells ring.

Contrary to David Cameron’s stated view, it is clear that we must break with the EU to become an independent trading nation again. Not to do so merely makes us members of a dwindling, inward-looking 
trading bloc.

We must turn our attention outwards, to the world.

Andrew HN Gray

Craiglea Drive, Edinburgh

Ever closer union

I find Bill Jamieson’s twin desiderata of the supremacy of our parliament and our judiciary (Perspective, 12 November) surprising.

With other countries calling the shots in various policy areas, supremacy may merely amount to changing the colour of the rubber stamp.

Equally, the Prime Minister’s objective of stopping “ever closer union” seems out of kilter with other policies.

We defer to the International Court at the Hague and to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) as well as other bodies.

We are relying on the WTO to judge whether retaliation for the alleged “dumping” of steel by China is acceptable.

I would also guess that “ever closer union” has served us well in areas ranging from intellectual property rights and recognition of equivalence in professional qualifications to effective co-operation on public, animal and plant health.

As to developing competitiveness and getting rid of red tape, much depends on opinions.

Often, one man’s sensible regulation to prevent illegal activity is, to others, blatant interference with enterprise in action.

Time spent in fisheries protection and enforcement confirmed this for me.

LV McEwan

Kirkhill Road, Edinburgh

SNP competence

The headline in your report (7 November) on Transport Scotland’s £250,000 fining of ScotRail included the words “litany of failure aboard trains and at stations”.

Scottish transport minister, Derek Mackay, was quoted as commenting: “We are pleased to be working with Abelio ScotRail to uphold and improve upon the high standards we set ourselves”.

Your report (11 November) on Police Scotland includes in its headline the words “litany of police failure over call handling”.

The response from Scottish justice minister Michael Matheson shows that he is 
reading from the same script as Mr MacKay. “In welcoming the assurances provided by HMICS in this report around quality of customer services, call handling and grading I want to make sure that these standards are maintained.”

Is there some part of the phrase “litany of failure” which SNP ministers do not understand or is it simply the case, as it appears to be, that failure is the standard they are content to “maintain” and “uphold”?

You report (13 November) that Kezia Dugdale highlighted the catalogue of issues relating to Police Scotland at FMQs on Thursday.

Nicola Sturgeon countered that crime is at a 40-year low – a claim undermined by a senior police officer – and followed up with the standard SNP response that the opinion polls somehow prove that the SNP must be getting things right.

The polls may allow SNP MSPS to congratulate themselves on their competence despite the evidence to the contrary.

But they bring little comfort to those who suffer as a result of their failings – such as the families of the unfortunate souls who meet tragic and preventable deaths at the side of the road.

Colin Hamilton

Braid Hills Avenue, Edinburgh

Wrong priorities

I note with interest that our First Minister was visiting Westminster earlier this week no doubt mustering her troops to vote against the proposed bill to vary the retail opening hours in England and Wales.

Was it just coincidence that she was out of the country on the day when the critical review on the performance of Police Scotland and its response procedures was published?

The following day a report by the independent body, the Fraser of Allander Institute, reported that Scotland’s economic growth is predicted to slow this year from 2.5 per cent to 1.9 per cent.

We aren’t finished yet. Unemployment figures were then published, showing that while unemployment in the remainder of the UK was falling, unemployment in Scotland was increasing. We all know about hospital waiting times.

With regard to education, Angela Constance, cabinet secretary for education and lifelong learning, has undertaken something of an about turn in reviewing her proposals for the governance of colleges and 

This all exemplifies the purpose of the SNP, who would rather spend time plotting to wreck a bill affecting England and Wales to make a nuisance of themselves in Westminster than attend to the issues affecting Scotland.

Alex McQuade

Wallacestone Brae, Falkirk

Repair logistics

I travelled back from Edinburgh to Glasgow on Thursday afternoon and noticed that the Western Approach Road was closed for resurfacing.

Following the signs out to join the M8, I saw to my horror that workmen were digging up that road and my journey home was a nightmare.

What are the road planners thinking, carrying out repairs on two major exit roads to the west at the same time?

Do they not talk or think about the consequences (especially for out-of-towners who do not know the shortcuts)?

Lawrence M Gilgallon

North Corsebar Road, Paisley

Next tram phase

On the second phase of the Edinburgh trams project, shocking figures have been produced of the comparative cost of engineering projects here and in Europe and the blinkered approach of Edinburgh (your report, 12 November).

Some years ago Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman saw it all, even down to the cost of getting a pedestrian crossing built, as part of our poor national productivity.

Even worse, the excessive arrangements and payments back and forth, and the use of consultants in all areas and at all stages, in his view, were a kind of nationwide corruption – corruption not of the brown paper bag kind but in the sheer inefficiency and waste to produce fee upon fee for firms, across the public and the private sector.

Concluding by way of light relief – do readers remember that to remove the tolls from the side of the Forth Bridge leaving just the tarmac and a few altered road markings we see today was a weekend’s work, yet cost more than £900,000?

I can’t have been the only one then who wondered if instead someone had simply known a pal who had a bulldozer and a dumper truck.

Roderick Brodie

Duff Street, Dundee